The LORD is Serious
3rd Sunday in Lent
The LORD is Serious
1. About sin
2. About salvation
Text: Numbers 16:23-40
How do you show someone that you are serious about something? In our school we have a lot of rules and policies. There are rules about attendance and being tardy, rules about dress code and uniforms, rules about behavior, even rules about homework. But how do you show kids and parents that we are serious about these rules?
First of all, you get rid of softy pastor-principal and you bring in a real principal who will bring the hammer down. Then you show parents and students just how serious you are with consequences. If you don’t wear your uniform to school, then you sit in the office until your parent brings the uniform and you’re marked unexcused from school. If you are late—even one minute late—more than three times in a quarter, then you get a detention. If you have four assignments not finished in a week, detention. If you act up or are especially disrespectful, detention. Oh, and by the way, detentions are Saturday morning at 7am. Ouch!
How do parents show children that they are serious? When you act up, you sit in time out. For older children, you do the most painful thing imaginable—you take away all video games, TVs, iPhones, and iPads. Sometimes they get a little reminder on their hinder, too.
How do employers show employees they are serious? They give written warnings and notices. They suspend without pay. They fire.
How does God show that he is serious? He gave his people a lot of laws and rules. The highlight of them all was the 10 Commandments. There were also hundreds of other laws that governed the way they lived and ate and worshiped.
Then God set up a sacrificial system that delivered a very clear message. When there is sin, there must be death and bloodshed. So the people needed to bring lambs and goats and rams and more as sacrifices for sin. The smells of death and sacrifice were almost continually wafting through the air.
As if that wasn’t clear enough to show God’s seriousness about sin, God also established a very specific structure for leadership. Moses was the leader of the people. He was the one who spoke with God on behalf of the people. Moses’ brother Aaron was the worship leader. While only Levites could serve in the worship, specifically only Aaron and his descendants could come near the Lord in the tabernacle and offer sacrifices or incense to God. Again, God was delivering a very clear message about how holy he is.
But this didn’t sit well with three men named Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. They didn’t like that Moses was the chosen leader. They didn’t like that only Aaron and his descendants had the privilege of serving the Lord at the tabernacle. This was no small complaint either. These arrogant men weren’t alone. There were 250 other well-known and respected Israelite leaders that joined Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in this full-fledged rebellion against Moses and Aaron and against God. These 250 were so bold and arrogant that they even dared to bring their own incense censors to the tabernacle to offer incense before the Lord.
How would God show that he is serious about his commands? How would God show that he is serious about sin? Moses told the people that if these rebels died a regular, natural death then this rebellion was not a big deal. But if they died by extraordinary means then all would know that they sinned against the Lord.
No sooner had Moses finished speaking than God showed what he thought of this all. Verse 31: “As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with the households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions. They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, ‘The earth is going to swallow us too!’”
Korah, Dathan, Abiram, their families, and their followers found out: The Lord is Serious about sin. The rest of Israel got the message too. Suddenly fear struck their hearts as they realized how sinful they were too. They ran for their lives shouting, “The earth is going to swallow us too!” God then made sure they would never forgot this story as he ordered the rebels’ incense censors to be melted and overlaid on the altar as a perpetual reminder of this event.
Listen carefully once more to what the apostle Paul said in the second lesson today: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” Let this story of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram be an example and a warning to us today as well: The Lord is Serious about sin.
We don’t always think that way though, do we? How often do you look over your shoulder and shudder when you say a bad word? Or how often do you think a hateful thought and look up to make sure lightning won’t strike? When was the last time you indulged in some juicy gossip and quickly checked to make sure the ground wasn’t splitting open beneath you?
Arrogantly, we go on sinning every day and we rarely think twice about it. God hasn’t done anything to us yet, so he probably won’t do anything at all. Often the more we get away with something, the more bold we become in our sinning. Look at a city like Las Vegas. People have become so boldly arrogant in their sin that they even call Las Vegas “Sin City” and think nothing of it. “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. No one will ever know.” How often don’t we think: “What happens in my heart stays in my heart. No one will ever know.”
Let Korah, Dathan, and Abiram be an example and a warning. God knows. God knows everything. God sees everything. We may think we are getting away with something, but we aren’t. Sin always catches up with us. When people find out, it ruins our lives. Some sins bring heavy consequences in our relationships or in our work. And if we let our hearts follow our sinful desires and paths enough, rejecting God and his will, the Lord will eventually allow us to be swallowed in the eternal graves of death and hell. As Korah, Dathan, and Abiram found out, arrogant rejection of God leads to death. The Lord is Serious about sin.
The astounding thing about our God is that he has another side to him, too. The Lord is holy, just, and righteous. The Lord is Serious about sin. But the Lord is also loving, compassionate, and merciful. The Lord is also Serious about salvation.
Did you note in the first lesson this morning an interesting thing about God’s name? Every single time his name is mentioned in these verses—10 times in 18 verses—the name for God used is “the Lord” with all capital letters. That’s the translators’ way of telling you something. The Lord with all capitals is the name YAHWEH or Jehovah. YAHWEH-Lord is God’s name that tells us he is the God of free and faithful love.
That might seem strange to you. How is this the loving and compassionate God? He opened up the earth and swallowed up over 250 people in swift and quick death. That doesn’t sound very loving!
Yet the YAWYEH-Lord was very compassionate in this story. He certainly could have destroyed all of Israel for their constant rebellion and sin. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were just three instigators among a whole nation of sinners. God could have destroyed them all.
The Lord was also careful to preserve his people. He did not want sin and rebellion to spread so he put an end to it immediately. He was preserving his people because he had promised that through them he would send the Savior. If he wasn’t patient and loving and had instead destroyed Israel, then he couldn’t have sent the Savior in the future.
There’s one more interesting aspect to the YAHWEH-Lord’s love and compassion in this story. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were terribly arrogant and sinful. God swiftly issued consequences for that sin. We get the impression that their entire families were immediately wiped off the face of the earth (or swallowed by the face of the earth!). We don’t hear anything more about their families . . . that is, until the book of Psalms. Sure enough we find in the opening verses of Psalms that 11 out of the 150 psalms were written by “the sons of Korah.” God showed mercy by sparing some of Korah’s family though they certainly did not deserve it. He allowed Korah’s line to carry on. He even used some of his descendants as inspired Bible writers! It gives perspective to these beautiful words the sons of Korah wrote in Psalm 42: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Korah’s descendants had good reason to put hope in God because many of them had been saved by his mercy.
As we learned from this story that The Lord is Serious about sin, we can also learn from this story that The Lord is Serious about salvation. The YAHWEH-Lord was merciful and loving to Israel and the sons of Korah, and the YAWEH-Lord has been merciful and loving to us.
Every day is a gift of the Lord’s grace. Every day is evidence that the Lord has once more been patient and loving with us. The Lord had the power to open up the ground and swallow people 3,000 years ago, he could certainly still do it today. But here we are, still living and breathing because of the YAWEH-Lord’s compassionate love.
It’s not that God isn’t serious about sin any more. Oh, he’s dead serious about sin. He always has been. But the Lord is also Serious about salvation. So serious that he even sent his own son Jesus to make sure that we could have salvation.
That’s the incredible thing about Jesus. He takes care of both problems at the same time. The Lord is Serious about sin and demands bloodshed and death to pay for it. So Jesus came and sacrificed himself to take that punishment. That’s how The Lord is also Serious about salvation. Jesus loved us so much that he did take our place and our punishment so that we could have salvation. What astounding love and compassion from our YAHWEH-Lord!
How do you show someone that you are serious about something? Usually you need to follow through to show how serious you are. Teachers, parents, employers all follow through and keep their word to show they are serious and trustworthy.
This interesting, unique story of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram is a story that we can learn from. The Lord is serious. When he speaks, he always follows through. Sin is detestable to him. Sin deserves punishment. Those who arrogantly defy and reject him will have hell to pay (literally).
But the Lord is also serious about his love. He promised to send a Savior and he followed through on that promise with Jesus. He promised to punish sin and he followed through on that promise with Jesus. He promises to forgive our sins and he follows through on that promise because of Jesus. Now he promises us eternal life and he will follow on that promise because of Jesus.
Learn from the past. The Lord is Serious about sin, but he is also serious about salvation. Praise our YAHWEH-Lord!
Posted on March 5, 2013, in Church, Sermons and tagged Abiram, Church, Dathan, Jehovah, Korah, Lent, Moses, Numbers, Numbers 16, Salvation, Sermons, Sin, Yahweh. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.